A huge cache of ammunition has been stolen from a British Army training camp in the Middle East – and is now feared to be in the hands of Islamic State.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has discovered the haul of 87,000 5.56 bullets – enough to equip three infantry regiments – was taken from under the noses of UK troops during a desert exercise in Jordan.
Military sources have told this newspaper that the thieves – possibly acting on the orders of IS – cut a hole in the perimeter fence of an ammunition compound, drove a lorry inside, and towed away the container in which the bullets were stored.
The theft happened in March while 1,600 British troops were taking part in Exercise Shamal Storm – a series of large-scale desert manoeuvres also involving American and Jordanian soldiers.
The Mail on Sunday understands that the ammunition was not guarded around the clock but that British military vehicles regularly passed the compound. It is believed the thieves watched UK soldiers for several days and timed their raid to avoid the patrols. Crack SAS troops tried to recover the container when it was noticed it had gone missing – but their efforts were in vain.
The haul of 87,000 5.56 bullets – enough to equip three infantry regiments – was taken from under the noses of UK troops during a desert exercise in Jordan
The incident is thought to be the largest theft of British military equipment for decades.
Last night, a member of the Defence Select Committee demanded an urgent inquiry into how the deadly haul was removed from the training area near the coastal city of Aqaba, where troops also set up a field hospital and practised dealing with chemical and biological weapons threats.
The camp was close to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, parts of which are lawless and occupied by IS-affiliated terrorists who have threatened to attack holiday resorts in the region, such as Sharm el-Sheikh, which is visited by thousands of British tourists every year.
The theft raises the chilling prospect that UK holidaymakers could be shot dead by terrorists using British Army ammunition. While Jordan is a staunch UK ally, it is home to around 10,000 jihadis.
Reports indicate that IS has weapons capable of firing the stolen bullets. The terror group already has in its possession tens of thousands of US-made rifles, which use the same size Nato ammunition, and which it seized from the Iraqi army.
Last night, Conservative MP Richard Benyon, a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said: ‘This is a very serious matter that I intend to raise immediately with the committee and the
Ministry of Defence to find out what has happened. I hope the Army will learn from any mistakes made and ensure that never again will our ammunition fall into the wrong hands.’ Terrorism expert Michael Burleigh described the security lapse as ‘extraordinary’, adding: ‘This is a very dangerous situation. It is entirely possible that this ammunition could fall into the hands of illegal weapons dealers and find its way to extremist rebel groups, including Islamic State.’
An investigation by the Royal Military Police cleared UK troops of being involved in the theft. The case has now been handed to Jordanian police.
Details of the theft were uncovered by The Mail on Sunday using a Freedom of Information request.
Last night, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘The Army takes the security of ammunition very seriously and has robust procedures to prevent losses and thefts. All thefts are rigorously investigated with civilian police forces.’